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[poh-lee-oh-mahy-uh-lahy-tis] /ˌpoʊ li oʊˌmaɪ əˈlaɪ tɪs/

noun, Pathology.
an acute viral disease, usually affecting children and young adults, caused by any of three polioviruses, characterized by inflammation of the motor neurons of the brain stem and spinal cord, and resulting in a motor paralysis, followed by muscular atrophy and often permanent deformities.
an acute infectious viral disease, esp affecting children. In its paralytic form (acute anterior poliomyelitis) the brain and spinal cord are involved, causing weakness, paralysis, and wasting of muscle Often shortened to polio Also called infantile paralysis

1874, also polio-myelitis, coined by German physician Adolph Kussmaul (1822-1902) from Greek polios “grey” (see fallow (adj.)) + myelos “marrow” + -itis “inflammation.” So called because the gray matter in the spinal cord is inflamed, which causes paralysis. The earlier name was infantile paralysis (1843).

In many respects, also, this affection resembles the acute spinal paralysis of infancy, which, from the researches of Charcot, Joffroy, and others, have been shown pathologically to be an acute myelitis of the anterior cornua. Hence, for these forms of paralysis, Professor Kussmaul suggests the name of ‘poliomyelitis anterior.’ [“London Medical Record,” Dec. 9, 1874]

poliomyelitis po·li·o·my·e·li·tis (pō’lē-ō-mī’ə-lī’tĭs)
A highly infectious viral disease that chiefly affects children and, in its acute forms, causes inflammation of motor neurons of the spinal cord and brainstem, leading to paralysis, muscular atrophy, and often deformity. Also called infantile paralysis.
A highly communicable infectious disease caused by the poliovirus of the genus Enterovirus that causes inflammation of motor neurons of the spinal cord and brainstem, leading to paralysis, muscular atrophy, and often disability and deformity. Childhood vaccinations are given to prevent infection. Also called polio.
poliomyelitis (polio) [(poh-lee-oh-meye-uh-leye-tis)]

An acute disease, and an infectious disease, caused by a virus, that brings about inflammation of certain nerve cells in the spinal cord. It can have a wide range of effects, from mild to severe, including paralysis, permanent disability, and death. In the United States, the disease has now largely vanished since the development of a vaccine against it. (See Sabin vaccine and Salk vaccine.)

Note: The history of polio, which went from a major public health problem to a minor one in a short time, is often used as an example of the benefits of medical research.

Note: President Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered from poliomyelitis. During his presidency, he could not walk unaided.


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  • Poliomyelitis immune globulin

    poliomyelitis immune globulin n. A sterile solution of globulins containing antibodies normally present in adult blood that is used as a passive immunological agent to confer temporary protection against paralytic polio and to attenuate or prevent poliomyelitis, measles, and infectious hepatitis.

  • Poliomyelitis virus

    poliomyelitis virus n. The picornavirus that causes poliomyelitis. Serologic types 1, 2, and 3 are recognized, type 1 being responsible for most cases of paralytic poliomyelitis and most epidemics. Also called poliovirus, poliovirus hominis.

  • Poliomyelopathy

    poliomyelopathy po·li·o·my·e·lop·a·thy (pō’lē-ō-mī’ə-lŏp’ə-thē) n. Disease of the gray matter of the spinal cord.

  • Poliomyeloencephalitis

    poliomyeloencephalitis po·li·o·my·e·lo·en·ceph·a·li·tis (pō’lē-ō-mī’ə-lō-ěn-sěf’ə-lī’tĭs) n. Acute anterior poliomyelitis with encephalitis. Also called polioencephalomyelitis.

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